The Art of Being Un-Wired: Chapter Four - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

The Art of Being Un-Wired: Chapter Four

(Read the other chapters here.)

It took three hours and would necessitate a new paint job, but all my furniture got through the row house’s narrow front door, with most by sheer force making it upstairs to the second and third floors. Benny ended up staying throughout, even at threat of car napping, though he spent most the time stationed at the front bay window, cellphone ever ready, 911 on speed dial.

“What now?” Benny asked as we sat on the new hardwood floors, covered with a blanket snagged with bits of leaf and twig remnants, one Benny kept in Sienna’s trunk for impromptu “collaborations.” Our collaboration this evening consisted of delivered Moo Shu Pork (partial delivery when you take into account we, and by “we” I mean I, had to go and meet the driver curbside for what felt like the strangest of hostage exchanges) and the bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champaign, a gift from Taiwo for our successful settlements.

“Well, believe it or not,” I began, taking a gulp from my coffee mug, the only thing I could find to pour wine into, “I’m opening a bed and breakfast, the theme: famous black writers.” I held my hand up, “Now, before you say anything, Benny, I’ve already got one reservation–a nice couple from Minnesota.”

“Damn, this is good, better than that Arbor Mist you’re always swigging,” he said, totally ignoring my life plan, his only thought to refilling his own Campbell’s soup mug. “So, what’s up with you and Taiwo?”

“What?—Oh, God, Benny. He’s married. Besides, he’s a friend.”

“So were Ross and Rachel, what of it? Oh well…does he at least have a brother?”

“Matter of fact, a twin.”

“Really?”

“Don’t go getting your batons all tossed about,” I said, forgetting for the moment that I wanted to talk about my imminent future, not the past, not men. “Taiwo says he’s a bad boy.”

“The Negroid sheep of the family.”

“Let’s just say, not as conventional as Taiwo.”

“So, instead of getting you some, you’re going to play chief cook and bottle washer to white folks—Minnesotans at that?”

“What makes you think they’re white?”

“I assume the initial batch of folks will be Middle Americans.  I mean, who else would be willing to pay money to come to Baltimore and gawk?”

“I didn’t inquire as to their race. Besides, there a lot to do here,” I said, ticking off what little I knew there was to do like a junior Baltimore City Office of Tourism guide. “There’s the Harbor—and, of course, there’s…

“Indubitably so,” he said, yawning, waving me off. “Just remember there’s more to being Balamer, than coming here and buying and running a flop house.”

“I know. And, it’s not a flop house, it’s a multi-family rowhouse.”

“Now, I know you don’t know anything about this city.  Half of your “rowhouses” are crammed to the rafters with folks with less than two pennies to rub together.  You’d know this if you were Baltimore, but you’re not, Stell.  You’re not ‘born and bred’.  And no matter how long you’re here, you’ll never be old Baltimore.  Hell, you’re not even new Balamer –”

“If not new, then what?”

“Sweetie, you’re the worst kind of Baltimore, you’re a never will be, so you might as well not bother putting in the effort.”

I was tired. Tired of Benny, who ever since finding out his great grandfather, a Polish immigrant, worked on the docks in Fells Point, now went around like he was the last authority on everything Baltimore. It was also around this time that he began telling anyone who’d listen how he once attempted to climb Mount Everest. But unfortunately, due to a severe case of cutis anserine (goose bumps), he and Huda, a Sherpa whose glass eye had shattered from the cold, were forced to hang out together at Base Camp Two, eating Ramien and doing Sudoko. So now, everything out of his mouth either began with “summit” this or ended with “Base Camp Two” that, which, along with his Balamer nonsense, left me with an acute case of mountain sickness (nausea).

“Whatever, Benny,” I said as I sat running my fingers along the blanket for the bits of twig that were starting to prick me.

“Don’t hate the teacher for trying to school you.”

“No hate here,” I assured him.”

Benny watched as I poured the last of the wine, half in his mug, half in mine. “So, you just gonna handle your Baltimore business, busy yourself making banana flapjacks? That’s what they call them you know, not pancakes like normal people–those Minnesotans on a quest for that true, ‘Look, pa, just like on The Wire experience.”

“And, what’s so wrong with that?”

“And, I repeat, what about you? When’s Estella gonna get her groove back?”

I didn’t want to talk about grooves. They were overrated. I especially didn’t want to talk about Francisco. I knew that was where Benny was headed. It was his destination of choice ever since we broke up. With our coupling, the two of them became unlikely “boys.” Sometimes I wondered if Benny possibly missed Francisco more than I did. Most times, I didn’t care one way or the other.

“So, when’s the last time you saw Mr. Fine Ass Francisco.”

“I’m doing me, and can’t think of a time I’ve been happier,” I said, shaking the wine bottle one last time. It was empty.

Benny got up and took a quick peek out the window to see if Sienna was still parked in front of the house. She was. Plopping back down onto the blanket, he drained the last couple of drops of wine from his mug then picked up my cup and did the same.

“See, there you go, right back to Francisco. Might as well go there, you know you’re dying to.”

I shook my head. “You’re so wrong. I’m in a totally different space now.  A better, more contented space.”

“So what, you’re just going to do the cat lady thing. No man, just hang around this big ass house in a big ass flowered muumuu, flashing the pizza delivery guy?”

I opened my mouth to inform him that daywear for today’s woman were Danskin yoga togs, but before I can there’s a noise.

“–God, Jose! You still here? I thought you left hours ago?”

“Si, I finish up. Sorry, if I scare you,” he said, his shirt no longer tucked into a back pocket, but back on, neatly buttoned and tucked into his jeans splattered with paint.

“That’s fine. Thanks. If I’d known you were working so late, I’d told you to go ahead home.”

“Yeah, Jose,” Benny grinned, “your wife must be really mad at you, staying out so late.”

“No, I’m not married, sir.”

“Girlfriend, then?”

“No, too busy, women need attention. I got to work.”

I smiled at Benny, giving a slight, but noticeable shake of my head for him to stop.

“Well, woman, I should be heading out too. You gonna be all right here by yourself tonight?” Benny asked.

“I’ll be fine. Thanks for hanging out.”

“No problem, you know how we do. Call you first thing in the morning?”

“Sounds good.”

Jose looked at us both, a worried expression on his face, “Your friend, he’s not stayin’?”

“No, he has his own home to get back to.”

“But, Miss, you don’t want to stay by yourself. This is a big house. It’s not good for a woman to be alone.”

I was touched by Jose’s concern. “I’ll be fine. You go on, get home. Both of you. ”

“Well, then, Chica, I’ll call tomorrow.” Benny embraced me one last time before heading out the door, lingering for a moment, waiting it appeared for Jose to follow. But the young man stood planted as if waiting for Benny to exit, and so he did, turning as he left to wink and blow a kiss, though I can’t say for sure who the kiss was meant for.

“Thank you so much, Jose.” I said, moving toward the door. “Everything is just the way I wanted. Rudy said you’d take good care of me and I’m so pleased, really.”

“But you haven’t seen everything.”

“God, what’s left?”

“The roof.”

“Ah, yes. I almost forgot.” I hadn’t been up to the roof since the guys finished with their tarring and put up new gutters. Jose and his crew were to lay decking the length of the back of the house, along with cutting in an access panel to the roof from a small walk-in closet on the third level.

Standing on the roof, so high above everything, Balamer didn’t look so tough, so Wild, Wild West as my stepfather Pete had once joked at learning Dyson’s school choir group was scheduled to perform with the Meyerhof Symphony. “That’s Baltimore, “Yur either with us or agin us, and God help you if you’re agin us.” Which made all of us laugh, except Glory, who scrunched her face, dramatically grabbing Dyson by the hand to begin reciting right on cue, “The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life–of whom shall I be afraid?” And, who I know, would have spritzed Dyson down with her special recipe holy water right then and there, if only she had had some.

Much of what I knew of Baltimore, up to this point, I had gathered from Pete, his Wild, Wild West assertions. None of it good. Even Little Ludie, the shampoo girl at my salon, Hair & More and Then Some More, who I had never said more than “Not so rough, Lud, it’s my head not an African drum,” had had something to say about my impending move.

“Well, Miss Lady,” she said, tugging away, applying what I hoped would be the last in long and burning line of hair relaxers to my hair. “All I can say is be careful, girl, because I’d hate to hear you caught yourself a case of the AIDS. ‘Cause it ain’t pretty. Hate to see you all baldheaded, scalp all spotted up, seein’ how it took us some time to grow what has turned out to be some nice and lovely hair.” At this point, several of the older ladies, nodded, as if rehearsed, bringing about a chorus of heartfelt, “Yes, Lord,”s, “My Lord,”s, and “Baby Girl’s, gotta be careful, Lord”s.

“Amen,” I said, ready to agree to anything, gesturing as I did toward the sink, as the gook to make my hair nice and lovely was starting to burn the devil out of my scalp, and Ludie, headed in direction of the door, appeared committed to taking her smoke break.

“The deck is beautiful, like everything else,” I said, turning to Jose, marveling at the dark walnut stain, its sheen seen even under the roof deck’s low led lighting. Rudy had suggested the stain. The roof deck would be the perfect getaway for my bed and breakfast guests. After dinner they’d “retire” upstairs to the deck, espressos and digestifs sipped slowly while sitting in the Jacuzzi, listening to old, old school Count Basie and the Duke. This was my perfect Baltimore vision. “Beautiful,” I said again, sighing.

As we stood in the doorway, I watched Jose fumble through his worn wallet finally coming across the business card he said his sister Anna had printed on her computer. “Here, Miss,” he said, “You call me if you need anything – that’s the number for me, only me no one else, okay, Miss?”

I took the dog-eared card, assuring him again that I would be fine, but would call if I needed him. I watched from the door until he got into his red pickup truck a little ways up the street from the house. He was sweet, and in some ways reminded me of Francisco, those first days of us getting to know one another. Then, just as quickly, I dismissed this, remembering this was a new day. And, no matter how tempting or beautiful the view, I wasn’t about to go there again.

to be continued…


About the author

Willett Thomas

Willett Thomas is the president of Write of Passage, Inc. She earned her MA in writing from Johns Hopkins. She has received artist fellowships from Blue Mountain Center and the Millay Colony. She was selected as a Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation fellow for the District of Columbia, and is the recipient of the 2008 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange award for fiction. Contact the author.
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